New Delhi, April 3: A new book written by foreign investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark has claimed that four foreign tourists abducted from Pahalgam in South Kashmir in 1995 were killed by a group of militants sponsored by Indian army.
A group of American and European tourists in Kashmir had been abducted by Al Faran in July 1995. Americans Don Hutchings and John Childs, Britons Keith Mangan and Paul Wells, German Dirk Hasert and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro were abducted by Al Faran, an offshoot of the now defunct Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.
Of the six, John Childs escaped from the clutches of his abductors and managed to be rescued. Ostro was beheaded and his body was found later in August. However, no details about the fate of the rest were available and it is assumed that they were reportedly shot dead. No evidence to dispute or confirm the claim has ever been found.
According to Delhi-based newspaper Asian Age, investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, who have written their new book, “The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 — Where the Terror Began,” about the abduction, claim that the four Westerners were murdered by a group of Kashmiri militants who worked for the Indian Army.
The Western tourists had been abducted by Al Faran to force the Indian government to free 21 prisoners including Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh, who were freed by the Indian government after the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu in 1999.
After the murder of Ostro, Al Faran was ready to strike a monetary deal to free the hostages and might have been released for as little as £250,000. However, the authors claim that the deal was deliberately sabotaged.
“It appeared that there were some in the Indian establishment who did not want this never-ending bad news story of Pakistani cruelty and Kashmiri inhumanity to end, even when the perpetrators themselves were finished.”
The book claims that a pro-government renegade, Alpha, or Azad Nabi, alias Ghulam Nabi Mir, who used to be based in Shalipora near Anantnag in Kashmir, had “bought” the four Western hostages from Al Faran and held them for months before shooting them.
Quoting the Kashmir police’s crime branch squad, the two authors write that the investigators had been convinced that the Indian-controlled renegades had the control of four Westerners after Al Faran dropped them.
“The squad reported some of its thoughts to its seniors, using these kinds of words, ‘Sikander’s men handed over Paul, Dirk, Keith and Don to Alpha’s renegades in the third of fourth week of November, around the time when the final sightings dried up. Sikander has given up. Al Faran is finished. Embarrassingly, India controls the renegades.’”
The book also quotes a crime branch source, who worked alongside the police’s Special Task Force in Kashmir and had been a scout for the Rashtriya Rifles about the fate of the four Westerners.
The hostages were brought to the isolated twin villages of Mati Gawran, near the Mardan Top Pass, and about five-hour drive from Anantnag, the source is quoted as saying. “The foreigners were hustled into a house by some STF boys and renegades. We gathered up the hostages and walked them out into the snow. There was only one end waiting for them, and we all knew it. No one could risk the hostages being released and complaining of collusion, having seen uniforms and STF jeeps, possibly hearing things too that they understood.”
The four hostages were shot dead and buried in the frozen ground near a grove of trees behind the lower village on December 24, 1995, according to the source.
“We led them into the trees, a good, hard walk behind the lower village. I remember that the snow was heavy and deep. And there they were shot. I did not do it, but I saw it with my own eyes. Afterwards, village men were forced at gunpoint to dig a hole down through the frozen earth in which to bury the bodies.”
Quoting a crime branch detective, the book claims that the Indian government had not wanted the hostage crisis to end.
“For Alpha, who had become unimpeachable, and a few rouge officers in the STF who by now were behaving like gangsters, and for a hardline clique of agents in Indian intelligence and the Army, all of whom had come to operate outside the norms and with absolutely no oversight, there had been no virtue in ending the hostage-taking at all,” the anonymous officer is quoted as saying by the two authors.
“This was the harshest version of the Game that anyone could imagine. All the time New Delhi said, it was trying to crack Al Faran, a group within the intelligence and the STF was letting them dangle, happy to let the militants portray themselves as savage criminals.”